Shortage of Trade Workers Leads to New School Programs


About 20 years ago high schools slowly began doing away with classes that taught the trades, preferring to put the focus on getting everyone into college. But three things have happened since then – baby boomers are retiring in record numbers, there is an explosive need for people with trade skills with all the new construction caused by the housing shortage, and schools are realizing that not everyone is meant for college. To fill the gap, businesses needing trade skilled workers are working with the school systems to create a series of programs to educate kids about trade-related jobs and the skills needed to succeed.

Mechatronics jobs suffered a similar issue about 15 years ago, but a group of businesses needing workers with these skills partnered with the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce, public schools, two-year post-secondary schools and Middle Tennessee State University to develop dual enrollment programs allowing high school students to graduate with sellable skills and key certifications leading to well-paying jobs with opportunities to build on those skills with additional training. Local businesses dependent on the trades have started similar programs.

“Trades are a good solid career,” said Norman Brown, owner of Roscoe Brown, “they can be done anywhere. And you can make good money.”

Construction trades are one of five high-demand industries right now. Companies need plumbers, welders, electricians, HVAC technicians, construction managers, and machinists. After conversations between many of the same parties as those who came together to work on the mechatronics issue, programs have been developed to educate children about the trades.

“We had some good conversations on how to get kids into some of these careers,” said Brown.

They created a program called “If I Had a Hammer” for elementary school kids that teaches about building a house and how to do fractions at the same time. It helps the kids understand how a house is put together while gently introducing them to careers in the trades.

Middle school students are told about trade jobs and the skills needed to succeed in them during career days. And there are now four high schools back to teaching skill trades. Businesses needing kids with trade skills are pushing for these classes to be available at all of the high schools.

“The endgame,” said Brown, “is to get kids interested. Now people are coming from all over the United States to see what we are doing.”

Roscoe Brown has created an apprentice program in the trades. It is a twelve-month program that is state certified. Participants have an opportunity to earn a living and to learn a lifetime of applicable skills at the same time. There is lots of hands-on training. No cost is applicable to participate in the program, but it takes 8,000 hours of work to gain apprenticeship certification. The certification is good for other states besides Tennessee.

One student that went through the construction program from Oakland High School and then through Roscoe Brown’s apprenticeship program now runs his own truck.

“I suggest that those with a possible interest in one of the trades make a point of riding along with someone on the job,” said Brown. “We have a program to do this. You just have to be at least 16-year-old and sign a waiver. One day you can follow someone doing HVAC, and another day you can follow a plumber…[The trades] are great for kids who don’t want to work in an office.”